Need examples and experiences of successful business models in making rural sanitary marts viable and more effective

From Ajit Saxena, UNDP, New Delhi
Posted 26 April 2007

While working as an engineer in the water and sanitation (watsan) projects in Madhya Pradesh, I have seen that successful implementation of watsan programmes depends on balanced use of both software and hardware components.

Thus, in addition to successful behaviour change communications, hardware support for implementation of watsan programmes is crucial. This ideally includes low cost construction material such as toilet pans, pit covers, squatting plates, drains, and material for superstructure.

A crucial concept for making such material available is the Rural Sanitary Mart (RSM), for which about Rs. 35 lakhs per district has been earmarked under Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC). RSMs are to be set up by NGOs, cooperatives, local bodies, etc. and are to provide a range of sanitary items for the different economic classes in villages. In some cases, RSMs also serve as contact points for village people to contact masons for construction and quality control.

However, RSMs are currently facing a number of problems :

  1. The initial surge in demand for sanitary material following Information, Education and Communication (IEC) programmes tapers off when villages surrounding the RSM are saturated. Also, RSMs have so far been focused on sanitary material and have not been able to diversify into other building products for sustainability.
  2. RSMs are not able to meet the demand for support to Swajaldhara, where 5 to 6 motivators per Panchayat will be identified and trained for periodic testing of chemical and bacteriological contamination and for maintaining local structures for safe and cost-effective water provision.
  3. RSMs are unable to provide technical support to school sanitation and hygiene education programmes, and for setting up technology for reuse of water.

In the above context, I request the Water Community to please share experiences and insights on the following:

  1. Examples and learnings of successful RSMs in different parts of India, which have been able to achieve regular all-year-round production and a viable business model.
  2. Information on the different schemes which can be dovetailed to RSMs, so that they can achieve an economically viable scale of production.
  3. Suggestions for strengthening RSMs so that they operate sustainably, economically and provide all-year-round employment through mechanisms such as :
  • Social marketing of sanitary material
  • Product diversification (e.g. by using different building material such as cement concrete, fibre, mud-based products, etc.) and types of machines available that can make such diversification possible.
  • Using the same machinery for providing material for larger building industry (e.g. pressed bricks, tiles, etc.).
  • Functional diversification – providing a complete package of watsan services through a single-window (e.g. trainings and material for water quality testing, masons for new construction or for plumbing, credit linkages, maintenance support to schools, etc).

This information will help NGOs and other stakeholders to better replicate the concept of RSM and will make RSM an option for sustainable employment generation and providing sustainable watsan services.

Please see attachment below for the responses.